Love where you live!
LEMON AVENUE – Loss happens in small towns in subtle but profound ways. That is what many long-time La Mesans are feeling since the death, earlier this month, of Naomi Stein.
As deaths go, it could hardly be called sudden. She was 99.
Still, as someone who lived in La Mesa for a large majority of the city’s existence, Miss Stein had managed to build a place in the heart of generations of La Mesa families. She seemed to have always been here. If you drove through the Village over the years, undoubtedly you saw her, walking to school or waiting at a bus stop.
Miss Stein lived, almost to her death, in a little non-descript apartment, tucked away on Wilson Street just off La Mesa Boulevard.
She didn’t drive. She never married. But she was like a mother and grandmother to generations of La Mesa families that sent their children to the Lemon Avenue School.
Miss Stein, the daughter of a Chicago performer, was believed to have learned to play the piano to accompany her mother. When she moved to California and was hired by Glenn E. Murdock (for whom the elementary school on Mt. Helix is named), she continuously instilled her classes and her schools with her musical talent.
Dr. Mark Arapostathis, now a City Council member and a teacher, credits Miss Stein with helping inspire his love of musical theater.
“I met her when I was in Kindergarten,’’ Arapostathis said recently. “She would come for what we called ‘Sings’ at school. She would teach us all the tunes and we loved it. We didn’t even know what Broadway was. We didn’t know that ‘Oh What a Beautiful Morning’ came from ‘Oklahoma’ but we learned it all from her.’’
Arapostathis, who eventually took piano lessons from Miss Stein, now heads the Peter Pan Junior Theater, spreading Miss Stein’s inspiration to dozens of young La Mesans every year.
Miss Stein officially retired decades ago, but she continued traveling each summer to Neuchatel University in Switzerland, and in La Mesa, she kept up weekly appearances at Lemon Avenue and was known to play at Highlands Elementary as well as weekly performances for the Salvation Army in El Cajon.
“She loved the piano and would take the bus to wherever she could to get a chance to play for people,’’ said Elaine Arapostathis, Mark’s mother and also a long-time La Mesa teacher.
Mark Arapostathis took a few moments to close a recent City Council meeting in Naomi Stein’s memory. The passing of such a long-serving and beloved member of the community will be marked more formally in January.
Bill Prouty, whose late wife Marilynn was a colleague and close friend of Miss Stein, said he hopes four generations of La Mesans will gather at Lemon Avenue School at 12:30 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 29th, for a celebration of life. He said he expects state music education leaders to attend as well. Songs Miss Stein taught to generations of children will be sung. And Ms. Stein’s piano is being given to the school. Her long-time friends are setting up the Naomi Stein Music Foundation to fund scholarships for aspiring music teachers.
Miss Stein is survived by a sister in San Francisco and many others in La Mesa who felt she was part of their own family.